The day I gave 364 people a decent burial
SIR – Robert Ian Williams (Letter, December 23) asks what provision the Church makes for the respectful treatment of the remains of Catholics subjected to archaeological digs. Perhaps I may be able to help.
In Britain it is difficult to liaise with archaeological trusts as there is no established protocol.
As a member of Dyfed Archaeological Trust, I follow its digs. When excavating St John’s Dominican Priory in Carmarthen they found 125 bodies; and at the Franciscan Church (perhaps the largest in Britain), they found 239, 105 of them from within the chancel. Not only were the bodies pre-Reformation, but they had, I believe, died before 1435. The bodies were medically examined in Cardiff (one skull was found to have been trepanned) and returned for burial.
It was proposed to mark the occasion with an interdenominational service, but when I pointed out the dead were all Catholic, they readily agreed my alternative suggestion of a Latin-sung Requiem Mass. So it came about that in 1994 I buried the remains of 364 people in Carmarthen Catholic graveyard.
Collectively they were too large for the church, so we first placed them in the open grave and then built a catafalque in front of the altar. Bishop Mullins presided, and I sang the Mass. It was so well received that later, when more graves were exhumed elsewhere, the Catholic liturgy was used.
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